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Photo by Martha

Fishing on the beaches of Sri Lanka is a daily spectacle. Tourists often line up in a procession of people pulling ropes. They are welcome. Each pair will be handy for a hand net, and tourists usually don’t want a half share.

Fish can be caught in a variety of ways, but the coastal troll is the most traditional, popular, and social method on the island, formerly known as Ceylon. A troll net is a rope with floats at the top, weights at the bottom, and a so-called middle part. stall where the fish run out when the net draws water. The troll can be pulled by boat or cutter, but in Sri Lanka it is usually pulled by hand. It is a kind of island ritual involving people, fish and birds.

Walking on the beach

In the morning, narrow wooden canoes with motors covered with twisted nets are pushed into the water from the shore. The boats go a few tens of meters into the sea, then slowly glide over the waves, and the two fishermen set up a net and roll more. Occasionally, they start the engine to pull the net in the right direction. Then they return to shore.

The net is usually removed in the afternoon. Until then, people were slowly gathering near the boat that was laying the net on the shore. Fishermen’s families, wives and children are coming. Other fishermen and their neighbors are coming. Souvenir vendors – necklaces, batiks and braided bracelets – stand on the road along the coast. There is always a two- or three-year-old woman sitting patiently on the sand. When the men are lined up on the rope, they sit between them and also put their hands on the rope. Although the fishermen are not happy about it, they do not object. On the other hand, tourists – sunbathing, hikers, surfers – are always welcomed in the company of pullers.

The construction of the net begins. This is a hasty and social activity. No one is overly tense. An unusual technique is very hasty steps by hand on the rope. Stopping on this walk in the sand from the sea is quite common, if you have a moment’s conversation with a passer-by, a newcomer, or joke with a fisherman in two places with a rope. The children of fishing families are obviously not very effective, they come here to get used to work at a young age, rather than to provide real help. They also constantly push each other off the ropes, catch each other, and sometimes run along the shore, leaving their rows.

In Galle, a dense city on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, the beach is adjacent to a crowded road for several kilometers. The beach here is narrow, so many men pull the ropes and set off, crossing the road for buses, trucks, cars and tuktukos – motorized rickshaws. No one is surprised – cars slow down, stop, avoid people clinging to the ropes, waiting for a change or reform of the queue. Sri Lanka is an island and fish is always important for the islanders.

In addition, Sri Lankans are sociable. Ticket drivers – bus drivers, truck drivers and taxi drivers – get out of cars and shout at the fishermen with ropes. Paradoxically, the police look at him quietly.

Fish trade
Photo by Martha

Fishermen’s song

After a few tens of minutes of haste, a trap from the warm waves of the Sri Lankan Sea – when part of the net loaded with fish comes out – usually leaves a few men near the rope. They take baskets made of skirt and palm leaves from under the clothes lying on the shore, enter the shallow water, take fish from the nets and throw them into the baskets. Sometimes they are sorted immediately – in one basket fluffy garbage or small flat fish, in another tasty and valuable fish. But not necessarily. It depends on the amount of catch – if there is a lot of fish, it should be thrown in baskets first and then washed.

Sometimes it turns out that the catch was very successful, and hundreds of fish were trapped in shallow water. Then the strongest men enter the water up to their necks, stand in a circle around the net and lift the edges so that the fish do not break.

This is a wonderful moment, because then the fishermen begin to sing in a chorus, in a low voice, but with joy. It’s always like that. The overcrowded network does not continue in silence. Singing is an expression of gratitude to all the spirits, gods and circumstances that favor fishing.

The large catch is pulled to some comfortable shallow place, where it is still slowly transferred to the baskets, accompanied by a song. Each basket full of two men is taken back to the sea to catch the fish by dipping the bowl.

Meanwhile, more people are gathering on the beach. Women come from the village. Fish sellers and cooks come from expensive hotels. Motorcycles rise, men with helmets up to their armpits, foil bags or jute bags in their hands fall off the horse.

Rinsing fish put a series of baskets in the sand. People in a group waiting on the beach move forward, look at the baskets, look at the fish, and point with their fingers to pick up or take what they want. Long-running trade fairs and debates begin.

The rule is simple: those who stand next to the rope while pulling the net have the right to participate in the catch. Even the old women of the village did little to help transport them. Lonely older women do not have the strength to pull the net, and their chances of making money are slim. But they have to eat, so they deserve to buy a few fish because they are on the line. It depends on the owner of the nets – and how long they will catch – only the worst species or one or two better fish they will catch.

Crows share

This is the reason for disputes and fairs. Traction nets don’t pay for fish, but of course net owners would like the best they can keep for cash-paying traders. The next fish are placed on sheets of sand, picked up, inspected, shaken their heads, packed in plastic bags after shorter or longer fairs, and the crushed banknote changes owner. There are extremely stubborn buyers. For example, there was an old woman in Tangalle with a long white braid, she stood by the rope, then picked the fish herself and … sat on them. He sat there until the owner of the net agreed to give them to him

Finally – usually just before sunset – the fish are sold or divided and everyone returns home with their share. It’s time for the crows.

On the beaches of Sri Lanka you can find a variety of birds – locusts and plovers, crows, dandelions, vaders, and even peacocks. The most numerous and ubiquitous are not white gulls, but black eastern crows – clever thieves and carnivores.

Tourists quickly realize that it is not a good idea to come to the beach with a plastic bag. Oriental crows have long learned that plastic bags often contain food, so they immediately gather around and try to get inside. Once, I put a bottle of water in a plastic bag on top of my clothes left on the beach. After a pinch in the sea, I saw a large flock of crows on my clothes. Although the bottles did not move, there were crumbs from the plastic bag. Very small.

Crows are smart. Fishermen are well aware of what will happen when a line is drawn to pull the nets, and they begin to fly in droves. They sit on the sand, in boats and baskets. They are waiting.

They know that when a net appears and people pick up fish, there will be a few very small fish left in the sand, which the people hate. This is the share of the bird. In the evening the crows will clean the net.

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